FCC Improves Wireless Emergency Alert System

A news release issued Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it has adopted rules strengthening the nation’s emergency alert system which notifies the public via mobile phone, television, and radio of emergencies. The FCC cited a 2018 false emergency alert in Hawaii mistakenly warning of an incoming ballistic missile, as well as other real disasters faced in recent years, as motivation for improving the national notification system.

The commission adopted the new rules pursuant to a directive within the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 instructing it, in consultation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to strengthen emergency alerting in various ways. The report and order is meant to ensure that more people receive relevant alerts, enable government agencies to report false alerts, and improve the way states plan their own.

Specifically, the rules create a new non-optional alert class known as “National Alerts,” and enumerate which government agencies may report false alerts to the FCC. The report and order also clarifies how alert senders can repeat their transmissions.

In addition, the rules encourage states to create or review emergency alert oversight bodies. Under the new FCC directives, state administrative bodies must also certify annual committee meetings. In addition, the new rules provide states with an informational checklist to be included in their emergency alert system proposals, and amends the FCC’s process for reviewing those plans. 

In a statement, Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel commended the actions. “This is progress. But there is still more to do,” she said.

“With hurricane and wildfire season upon us, along with the lingering challenges from the pandemic, we are going to be relying on emergency alert systems more than ever before. So today we are kicking off a rulemaking to discuss additional ways we can improve alerting, based on recommendations from our colleagues at FEMA. On top of that, on August 11 we will hold a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts to develop further insights about how we can improve these life-saving systems.”